Monday, January 29, 2018

We live

We do live, but work takes it's toll.  The boss put in his two weeks notice, so we all know how that goes.  A lot more responsibility, followed by training someone on how to manage me with no pay raise for any of it.  Joy.

I got some video of my Sunday ride.  He was a bit tired since he did a double on Saturday and a bit distracted by things falling off the roof but I figured I should get video anyway.  I don't get an empty ring all that often and this is about documentation, not perfection.

So here he is in his less than perfect glory.  It's a long, dull video, but it has all the moves in it that we're working regularly except the laterals since I wasn't sure what parts of the ring were in view.


Big screen helps to actually see.

The only thing I stared at was that back boot that was half undone.  How did I not notice that?!  The down side to riding alone.  But aside from that and the fact he was tired and sucking behind my leg in order to spook (spot those spooks?) it was a good ride.  It's pretty standard for where we're at.  Not looking like a giraffe is pretty natural now.  Transitions are calm and orderly.  Turn on the haunches and reinback are no big deal.  We had some moments of 'I'M A STALLION FEAR ME' where he drops off the contact and refuses to go forward, but that's pretty par for the course.  He's still pretty sure someone out there will fear him if he tries hard enough.

The more I handle him like a stallion, the better we do.  I really should check and make sure he's actually gelded all the way.

I'm very happy with this video.  I'm not leaning forward, he's not dragging his toes or making like a giraffe.  This is progress.  We are calm and highly repeatable.  We canter in both directions.  I love the fact that this is now our reality and I was irritated that he didn't put on his fancy pants for the camera.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.
 
The western dressage judges will love him.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lightness

The one bit of negative feedback I've received in regards to Theo's future as a western dressage horse is that he doesn't look as light in the bridle as the judges will like.  No, they don't want a loop in the rein like a western pleasure pony, but it should still look effortless, like it's the horse's idea.  I usually say that a horse can be ridden with fishing line when they're really light in the hand.  I think they want Theo to be a fishing line type of a horse.

It was suggested that I try him in a western curb, to get that look.  I don't mind a curb, my pelham has served me well when jumping outside and when my shoulder just couldn't handle what mi papi was dishing out.  However, my gut reaction was that it was the wrong move.  I said that I was concerned he would disappear behind the bit again.  I just fixed this dang connection.

But maybe, as a show bit, just to get the look, no harm in trying, just a suggestion . . . .

Ugh.  Time to stick to my guns.  No, no, no.  He does not need a curb.  A curb is going to send him diving down on his shoulders.  Does he need to be lighter in my hand?  Yes, but that's like saying he needs to be lighter on his forehand.  Every dressage horse wants to be lighter in front and lighter in the bridle while still getting an honest connection and power and relaxation and a partridge in a pear tree.  That's going to be my goal until the end of time!  Good gravy, if only she knew where we were six months, a year, two years ago. 

New types of selfie fail, need to get the mirrors cleaned

I figure if I can ride him with my trashed shoulder and feel no pain, he's not that heavy.  Yes, he braces, but it's passing and I'd rather work through it.  My NS bit is doing wonderfully and I see no need to change it when we've found something that works.  He doesn't hide from the contact but also can't lean on it.  I have no interest in having a bit of a 'drape' to my rein.  I need that line of communication to keep him on task when he's on his toes and being studly.  If I can get that in my snaffle?  Then okay, that's spiffy.  But I'm not changing gear to back him off, not when we've finally settled into a nice, consistent place.

But yeah, I would love to have him lighter.  Let's all be honest, I wouldn't have that moment of wavering if I didn't dream of him being lighter.  To have him skip the moment of bracing when I ask for something more challenging.  But who wouldn't want that?  I can get mechanical or I can be patient.  I'll be patient.  All things in their time.  And besides, I've got my hands full with asking him to lift that front end.  I can't manage that and a huge change in the way our (brand freaking new) contact works at the same time.  I'm not that talented.  This whole 'pick up your shoulders' thing is brand new to both of us, it takes a lot of focus.  I don't have the brain power to spare. 

Road hack celebrating our sunny, 47* day

Working at home, I've been focusing on our lightness through transitions.  Mi papi has lovely natural brakes so I forget about the downwards a lot of the time.  Why practice what he's good at?  But Trainer A recently reminded me that downward transition does not equal fall on your face and stop.  We're back to drilling the downward transitions as much as the upward.  Once he's doing the transitions without hitting my hand, bracing, or throwing a fit in either direction, I can add in some laterals.  Same old game, if he has no idea what I'm doing, he'll rock back just so he can be ready for my next random request.  Skipping gaits really gets him sitting back.  Those simple changes will be nice one day.

I know it's working because he gave me a canter half passe in both directions without me having to get dramatic or beg.  I touched  him with my spur and he started to go sideways.  He was actually balanced enough to do it and since we do so much lateral work at the walk and trot, the concept was already installed in his brain.  He got so many cookies and pats.

Observing the snow removal while waiting to finish drying

I'm not giving up on my Second level aspirations.  It occurred to me that I've got Second up on some sort of pedestal, this thing I want but can't do.  It's becoming a problem.  I start to think about it and almost automatically say 'no, we can't do that'.  So I'm just going to do it.  I'm going to do Second 1 at the start of the season at a schooling show.  I know the judge that's usually at that first schooling show, he knows me and my horse, and he's got a great sense of humor.  He stabled across from us at the regional championships and has taught clinics at the barn.  He'll be supportive of our efforts, even if we fall on our faces.  He's a tough judge, he doesn't toss points around, but he isn't cruel.  I think he would be very pleased to judge our first attempt.

We can do the whole test.  No one will be grabbing their pearls or gasping.  Our collection will come and go, I'll be tense because I have to sit through the medium trot, but it'll be fine.  We have to have our debut at some point.  Might as well get it out of the way.  Then we'll have nowhere to go but up.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Transformation

I started running back at the end of October with the express purpose of improving my fitness for riding.  A few knowledgeable types had mentioned my lack of endurance as something that was holding me back.  I was embarrassed that cantering my horse could get me out of breath.  So I started shuffling three times a week to work on that.  I require goals, so I entered some little races.

In my lesson on Friday, we had some good canter work.  Like really good.  Like not booting, not praying, focusing on balance rather than survival canter work on BOTH leads.  And when we were done?  I wasn't breathing hard.  I could have cantered for another five minutes.  I didn't get frantic or desperate as we cantered, I just kept riding.  Well gee, I may have found a root cause for some of our canter issues.  It was my chubby, out of shape butt getting tired and not being able to hold it together.

January 1st race, 0*

Today I had my second clinic with the western dressage trainer.  I am looking at doing a couple of recognized shows this year and found out that there will be a New England regional championship in August right around the corner from me.  Exciting!  I don't even have to qualify since the discipline is so new in my area that they . . . don't have a qualification system yet.  It'll be a nice goal since I don't have to chase points or travel far.  Just go to a one day show.

Theo was up on his toes at our clinic and being a dork about sounds outside of the indoor.  Tractors zooming by, leaf blowers in use, random wheel barrows popping up at doors.  We had a couple of snorts and attempted spins.  One half rear/pirouette/attempted bolt combo that made the clinician gasp since she didn't know he had that in him.  It was good practice for us to work through him being distracted and looking for a reason to spook.  Note to self, don't drop your inside hand when he's threatening to spin off the wall and bolt.  It's just inviting him to slam out that shoulder.

We also got to show off.  She asked how far along we were in standard dressage.  I did leg yield, shoulder in, haunches in, simple changes through the walk, reinback, turn on the haunches.  Theo was being a pain, but a very fancy pain and I got a couple of 'wow!' comments when he stepped into the shoulder in at the trot with his butt tucked and light in my hands.  Then he tried to spin off the wall, but we won't mention that part.  My horse is very talented, but also very smart.  Smart horses are a curse.  He may be the smartest horse I've ever worked with and that is saying a hell of a lot.

At the end of a rather intense 60 minute lesson, I wasn't out of breath.  Theo was puffing harder than me, as it should be when he's hauling my butt around.

Jan 16th race, 5*

I had no trouble keeping him going.  I got complimented on my quieter leg.  Some of that is mi papi thinking he's a stallion and showing off, some of it is my improved endurance.  It doesn't strain me to ride for an hour.  My muscles get sore, sure, I'm still working hard up there.  The difference is that my body is used to hard work and can cope.  It's more efficient.  My heart rate doesn't spike into crazy numbers.

I'm still not a fan of running.  It's dumb, especially when nothing is chasing me.  But there is a lot of booze involved in running events.

Post race beer with frozen bits on top

I get a beer after every race (free!) and my local running club goes out for margaritas after meet ups.  They give us happy hour prices, so it's cheap margaritas and nachos.  There's a whole party after my Mardi Gras 5k!  So at least there's a bit of motivation, but it's pretty crap motivation when I'm standing outside in single digits and looking at a 3 mile run.  There was ice in my beer because it was so cold at my last race, aptly named the Snowflake Shuffle, that the kegs started to ice over when set on the ground.  Yes, I did shuffle.  I am setting no speed records.  The pictures are misleading.  They're from the finish line and I can see my beer.  It's the fastest I move ever.

But my goal is to be a better partner for Theo and that appears to be happening.  He spooks and spins and acts a fool and I'm more comfortable because I'm fitter.  I can canter him for ten minutes straight without losing my balance and focus.  I can be a human lunge line.  I can outlast him.  I can keep organized and not feel desperate for oxygen.  People are starting to notice.  Trainer A was very happy with my performance in my last lesson.  Not only have I started to settle into my western tack, I can ride with intensity through my entire lesson. 

All of this good stuff doesn't change the fact I have to get up at 6am tomorrow for a group run and I'm not happy.  Sooooo not happy.  Why do all of my hobbies make my legs tired and require me to get up early?!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Winter Camp: Day 3

It's been weeks since I had a lesson.  Now I'm going to crank out three in a row.  I better get them in while the getting is good!

I also talked to Trainer A about Theo's return to sanity.  The look on her face when she realized when that Ultrafire kicked in was amazing.  I am under orders to never, ever do that again.  Ever.  I think I can agree with that.

She also snapped off some beautiful pictures of me in my new Arctic Horse Gear skirt.




I'm so in love with this thing.  I see some days with 23* as a high coming up and I am going to get so much use out of my skirt.  The girl that was sharing my lesson said she felt under dressed and didn't know it was a formal event.

Theo is back to being my steady eddy partner and things are chugging along as they should.  Today we worked on trotting through a set of trot poles, transition to walk at the last pole, then trot right away through another set of trot poles.  It required him to tuck his butt and keep it tucked to manage stepping over things and doing transitions at the same time.  When she added a third set of trot poles, he really had to lift to manage it. 

You can't see it under the skirt, but I was in my western saddle.  It's the first time Trainer A has seen the saddle.  The stirrups have two placements and I was experimenting with having them in the further back position.  The conclusion was nope, that throws me forward.  And I knocked myself on the pommel in a really unpleasant way once.  It also left the cinch uncovered by the fenders and it wasn't comfortable for me.  They've gone back to their forward position and I'll be riding in it again tomorrow.  For a western saddle, she's happy with where it puts me.  It wants me more in the back seat than my English saddles, but that's expected.  It's not a dramatic chair seat and it's not interfering with my riding.  She thinks the treeless thing is pretty cool.  I may have her take a spin in it, take a feel.

Theo is still happy as a clam in this saddle and with being back in work.  He was starting to tucker out a bit by the end of my lesson.  Not a surprise, since Trainer A worked him a bit this morning.  It's the first time in a month that he didn't gallop with bucking and farting down his field after my ride.  He trotted a bit, shook his head, and enjoyed a big roll instead.  We may have found the bottom finally.  This means his leaser can get back on him tomorrow.  She hasn't ridden him in weeks between cancelled rides due to weather and Theo being a freaking kite.  As Trainer A put it, she just didn't want to deal with that.  Nope.

Tomorrow I have another flat lesson in the western tack, then Friday we jump in my private lesson.  My jumping still unnerves a lot of the adult ladies that ride in the middle of the day, so we'll keep that one to an empty ring.  Theo will be so thrilled.  He's also getting his grain back.  I don't want him to really run out of gas in the tank.  Now that his brains are back between his ears, we can slowly, carefully turn the power back up.  His new supps seem to be filling the gaps without sending him through the ceiling.  First his CarbGuard, then his alfalfa will go back up to their usual amounts. 

I don't know who looked more pleased at the end of our lesson today:  me, mi papi, or Trainer A. 


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Winter camp: Day 1 & 2

I'm calling this little break from work and focus on Theo Winter Camp.  I am in Winter Camp and I love it.  There is a certain joy that comes from waking up and realizing the only thing you need to worry about for the day is spending time with your pony.

Day 1 was only kind of Winter Camp.  I was at work as usual, but after work I went out to ride for the first time in weeks.  Because I'm not dumb, Theo's first stop was the lunge line.  He was surprisingly well behaved.  I only lunged him tracking right to protect my left shoulder.  Go figure, he never bolted or dragged me.  He shook his head and scooted once, but was generally willing to keep his brain between his ears.  As I am legging him up after his break, it was only about ten minutes trotting on the lunge, about ten under saddle.  Dare I say he might have missed me?  Or at least missed the grooming and attention.  He cantered up to the gate and seemed quite pleased to head to the arena.


He was also an uncivilized yak.  So.  Much.  Hair.  And a certain amount of dancing around because he hadn't been handled much in a couple weeks.  Nothing actually troublesome, just enough to let me know that he considered himself to be a wild stallion.  Summary of our interaction:

I am a wild stallion!  Untamed, untouched, you cannot catch -- wait, what do you have in that bucket?

I am a wild stallion!  You cannot put a cooler on me, for I am vicious and -- OW!  You smacked me!  Okay, fine.  But only because I'm cold!

I am a wild stallion!  I snort and scoot and . . . oh, you seem very cross, never mind.  Can I have a cookie?

He was also very cuddly and enthusiastic about being groomed.  I was just as enthusiastic to give him a good curry and take him for a ride.  It's sad that 28* felt so warm. 

Day 2 was my first day of actual vacation.  I worked for a couple hours from home, then scooted out at noon.  With 50's in the forecast, I knew Theo needed to be clipped.  I didn't want to.  I spent most of the drive trying to think of an excuse to get out of clipping him.  Fortunately for his comfort, I realized I just needed to do it.  It was 39*, sunny, and frankly beautiful for January.  Time to shear the yak.

It's harder to shear a yak when he's so itchy that he keeps moving to put the clippers on the itchiest parts of himself.  And then I was clipping his belly and he got a bit . . . excited.  Theo, no.  No.  Do not do the humpty dance while I'm trying to clip your belly.  Just put that thing away.

It took me two hours to chew/clip through his ridiculous coat.  A lot of sections took multiple passes.  It doesn't matter how good my brushes are, when you get to a certain coat length, you get a dead zone of skin flakes and oil.  My solid citizen Oster clippers were crying and jamming.  It wasn't the prettiest clip, but at least I got the bulk of it off to keep him comfortable.  And then I got a couple of teens to help me give him skritches all over his neck and shoulders where he'd just been clipped.  I swear to all the little gods that horse almost fell on me.  He was so utterly delighted to have 30 fingers digging into him that he started leaning on me and I had to prop him up.

I let him have some time off with an early dinner and some hay in a stall while I cleaned up the mess.

Five times a year, folks

Dinner helped to reset his little brain.  I tacked him up in his western gear and took him down to the ring.  I planned on not lunging, but after walking for ten minutes, he heard something, spun, started to bolt, and I said fuck it.  On to the luge.  We worked on the lunge for about 20 minutes with no outbursts.  I even dared to lunge him left and my shoulder was uninjured!  I just needed to send him forward at the trot, get that first round of yayas out.  

Once I got on, I had to spend a couple minutes convincing myself to not have a heart attack every time he offered to go forward.  Scoot and forward feel a lot a like.  The teens were working their appy ponies and Theo was pretty sure he needed to chase them down and possibly kill them.  He's so charming.  I finally realized I was an idiot and turned him across the diagonal.  I said extend, he said YES, and our ride suddenly snapped into place.  I let him take the contact forward and down, power forward, and burn all of that excess energy in a good way.  I even got brave and cantered him for a bit with the crowded ring.  He was so dang happy.

Finally have a complete western outfit

 Seriously, this horse is so happy to be working again.  I asked him to go forward and his answer was so whole heartedly positive.  Like a spring that's been waiting to be released.  I wanted to laugh.  I was chattering with him, patting him, encouraging him to get as big as he wanted because he's mi papi and he isn't going to hurt me.  At the end of our ride I fed out the reins and he stretched out over his topline as hard as he could.  I can't even imagine how good it must feel to work those muscles again.

I brought it to a stop fairly quickly.  20 on the lunge, 20 under saddle, and about 20 walking.  I don't want to make him sore.  It was a lot more work than Monday.  Tomorrow Trainer A will working him for a bit first thing in the morning, then I have a lesson at 1pm.  I'm currently debating on jumping gear or western gear.  Probably western gear.  I'll jump in my Friday lesson, when he's really rolling.

The view you get when you use a peppermint wrapper to make him prick his ears

I'm so excited to be back.  So is my horse.  Taking the time off was probably the best choice for us, but we're glad it's over.  

Tomorrow we have a lesson and hopefully pictures of my gorgeous skirt from Arctic Horse.  I wore it most of today and I was so toasty warm.  It's gorgeous and I love it.

Crappy mirror picture ftw, I need to clean my closet

It will look amazing draped over Theo's butt.  Maybe we'll even get some pictures of us out in the snow.  I'm all about the accessories and style, after all.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Self care

Aka:  Humans need massages, too

Remember back on Christmas Eve when Theo was a rampaging dork, pulled me off my feet a bunch, and set back my recovery on my left shoulder?  It's had two weeks off and while it's much better, it's not where I expected it to be.  Funny thing about low grade, chronic pain.  It's hard to pinpoint.  After a lot of fussing, I realized part of it was my back.  Not surprisingly, Theo also messed up my back with his theatrics.  I've also been compensating, so starting to see some soreness and tightness in the other shoulder.

He's not at all sorry that my sore shoulder encouraged me to take some time off

With the holidays and crazy weather, I let it sit and rest.  Not actually the best thing, as my posture on the couch leaves much to be desired.  Today I went in and got my massage.  I'm lucky enough to have a friend that is a sports massage therapist with an office only seven minutes from work.  I texted her, we set up a time, and I warned her it was a bit of a mess.

It's a good thing she's my friend.  I said some fairly obscene things as she started working through my back.  While doing an assisted stretch on my bad shoulder, it let out a huge crack.  Hm, might be a bit of locked up tension there.  After an hour of concentrated effort, it was about a 30% reduction in pain and a noticeable increase in range of motion.  She also worked on my calves which were very tight from my running.  She is mentored by a Thai specialist, so she used her heels as necessary to get through the really tough spots.  Good gravy did I say some stuff when she squished all of the knots out of my legs.

The assisted stretches were particularly enlightening.  I was suddenly aware of spots that were tight, sore, and pulling that I didn't notice before.  Holy crap, I'm a mess.  No wonder I can't sit deep.

More selfie fail.  It was -2* actual temp when I took this picture.

I have my next appointment scheduled already because, evidently, it's worse than I thought.  I didn't notice that I couldn't really turn my head until after the massage.  I was pulling into traffic, turned my head, and the lack of pain was noticeable.  Huh, that was supposed to hurt?  I had to think about where I was expecting pain and the left side of my back was expecting something to go wrong when I turned my head.  When it's all a sea of aches and pangs, it's hard to figure out the source.

I dropped by the barn on the way to work to change Theo into his medium weight blanket.  I have my barn clothes stashed under my desk so I can go to the barn after work.  The break is over.  I'm hoping Theo will be cooperative and not undo all of the work I just got done.  Legging up means it's mostly walk and some trot today.  Assuming he's on board with that.  I think I'll start lunging to the right so he hits my good shoulder if he decides to be a kite.  My massage therapist needs to be given a fair shot at making some progress.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Tundra

Weehaw, Mother Nature.

My deck when the snow stopped last night

We had a beast of a storm go through last night.  We got about a foot of snow, the coast saw some really tough coastal flooding, winds were steady at 30mph, gusted to 50mph, and overall it sucked.  The new arctic air is coming in.  Like we needed to re-up or something.  Tomorrow our high is 0* and low is -11*.

Getting the dogs to go out has become a real ordeal.  They stand in the doorway, look out at the tundra in horror, and I have to push them out.  Once outside, Aura bounds around like a deer on crack, dragging me off my feet, causing me to fall into snow banks, and generally flailing for the 60 seconds her hairless, fatless body can handle the cold.  Then she needs to go in and we may have to carry her if her feet have frozen.  We now have an indoor and an outdoor coat for her.  We tried putting boots on her but her little cat shaped feet pop out as soon as she gives them a shake.  Being a boxer is tough. 

Displeased boxer is displeased

Peyton can't see over the snow and has to stick to the plowed trails.   She refuses to wear clothes and with her double coat, she doesn't need them.  But she's so tiny that the ground just sucks heat out of her and she doesn't last much longer than her sister.  She's also very disdainful about getting wet and would like to know why we haven't gotten her yard completely cleared yet and why we're letting this wind keep blowing.

The chug in her very fluffy winter coat

I've actually gotten concerned messages from people that have been watching the news.  I'm far enough away from the coast that it's just cold, wind, and a whole bunch of snow here.  We did not lose power by some miracle and our back up generator is on standby, just in case.  We're toasty warm and safe.  The barn has checked in and, aside from cancelling all lessons for the next two days, things are chugging along like normal.  The ponies are bundled up and several were seen playing in the snow.  They must know how miserable tomorrow is going to be. 

The winds were pretty fierce last night.  There were a couple points where I wanted to crouch down and hide because I could swear the house was shaking.  I could hear the trees groaning.  Fortunately we've had so many wind storms at this point that we had no big branches down immediately around the house.  The trees are looking tattered, but they're still upright.  Everyone is taking today to dig out and check on neighbors as the temps drop.

This weather is pretty insane.  My whining aside, this was not a gentle storm and anyone that lost power is in serious trouble.  The last three weeks have been completely abnormal.  This is NOT NORMAL.

My race photo, showing all of the layers needed to run at 0*

But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Monday?  31* and my return to the barn.  Just in time for my break from work, the temps will normalize.  Theo will be getting his Irish clip and we'll be legging him back up after his two week vacation.  My new saddle has been sitting for two weeks with the stirrups turned, so it should be ready to go.  I got my new draft sized western headstall (regular headstall did not fit, sob) and reins so he'll finally have matching western gear.  It was bugging me to have a dressage bridle with the brown western saddle.

I'm almost there.  I have two more days of brutal cold to weather, then I can get back to work.  Come on, normalcy!  I could use a bit of that bamly coastal New England winter!